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March Madness - RHQ Style, Day 2

Derozan is finally playing up to his lofty high-school expectations...

Derozan is finally playing up to his lofty high-school expectations...

So usually Friday morning represents our preview of that night’s Raptors’ match-up.

However based on the opponent, the way Toronto’s played lately, and the fact that it’s day two of March Madness, is there really a need to go into 3 keys?

I mean even if Gerald Wallace is limited this evening, Charlotte is still going to represent a tough match-up for the Dinos as currently the ‘Cats are simply a much better defensive club. We could say that Bosh needs to be more aggressive against Okafor, that TO needs to hit the glass, that Calderon needs to contain the likes of Felton and Augustin…but haven’t we been through these same sort of keys all year?

Oh we’ll still be recapping things tomorrow morning but the fact remains that the Raps are essentially eight games out of a playoff spot, and even if their next batch of opponents are the likes of the Clippers, Thunder and Bucks, it’s time to start thinking about the off-season, draft, and 2010.

So with that in mind, we’re going to skip the Bobcats preview, and head into Day 2 of our March Madness preview, examining Friday’s prospects to watch…

Match-Up: Cleveland State (13) vs. Wake Forest (4)

Player to Watch: While yesterday’s match-ups were a bit dull at times, we expect today’s to be chock full of close ones. In addition, today’s match-ups showcase the majority of swingman candidates that Raptors’ fans should be keeping an eye on and we’ll start with Al-Farouq Aminu. One of the best freshman in the country, Aminu, as we’ve discussed many a time on the site, has the look of a future NBA star at the 3/4. He’s got the length, athletic ability, and inside/out game that has him looking to be a potential top 5 pick. He averaged over 8 rebounds a game for Wake this season as well, so he’s no pushover.

The question though is how ready and how hungry is this kid? Having seen Aminu numerous times this season in ACC action, it’s tough to tell. At times he seems to have a motor that won’t quit, at others, he seems a bit lost in the action. That makes sense considering this is only his first season of college ball, but it’s this tournament that could really give fans an indication one way or another. We’re Aminu fans at the HQ, but if Toronto is looking for immediate assistance, he might not be the best option.

Other Players of Note: James Johnson (Wake Forest) Jeff Teague (Wake Forest)

Match-up: Morehead State (16) vs. Louisville (1)

Player to Watch: As discussed yesterday it is rare that a number 1 doesn’t completely blow-out the competition in the opening game of the tournament and yesterday did nothing but confirm that. This match-up should be no different with the number one team in the tournament matching up against the winner of the play-in.

Nevertheless, when this game is being shown you should absolutely watch it. The reason? Terrence Williams. Williams has arguably been our favorite player to watch this season as he is a SG/SF who can literally do it all. Although not the best shooter (but much improved since he arrived in Louisville) Williams is constantly in attack mode on the offensive end and can not only get to the rim at will, but create his own shot and shots for others. Louisville’s offense is unique in that it is their forwards (Williams and Earl Clark) that handle the rock on most possessions.

Terrence is a stat sheet filler as he is also a great rebounder and an absolute menace on the defensive end. In the Big East final Williams had 11 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 assists and 7 steals. He would look fantastic in a Raps jersey.

Other Players of Note: Earl Clark (Louisville), Samardo Samuels (Louisville)

Match-Up: East Tennessee State (16) vs. Pittsburgh (1)

Player to Watch: Two of the best and most hyped regular season match-ups this year were the games that matched Pitt against UCONN. Both these teams held the number 1 ranking in the nation at different points and both feature two dominant, albeit different, big men. The battles this season between Hasheem Thabeet and DeJuan Blair were epic. Blair, although undersized at the 4 spot, has been on an absolute tear all season long and played some of his best basketball this season in the biggest games. Against Thabeet, in Connecticut, he absolutely stole the show taking the game right at the big man and dominating the match-up with a 20-20 performance.

Blair is simply a rebounding hog. Despite his lack of height he is a beast on the glass and dominates the paint. As NBA general managers have come to learn, rebounding is the one skill that seems to translate seamlessly as players move from the college ranks to the pros. Given the lack of depth the Raps have up front seeing Blair in a Raps jersey next year would be a step in the right direction.

Other Players of Note: Sam Young (Pitt)

Match-Up: Utah State (11) vs. Marquette (5)

Player to Watch: It’s been an up and down season for Marquette but through it all the best player on their team has been Jerel McNeal. In this guard dominated offense he has been the team’s biggest offensive threat and with the late season injury to Dominic James the heat will be on McNeal to take his game to the next level.

McNeal is a fun player to watch. He is extremely crafty, a pure scorer, and has a high basketball IQ. Like the aforementioned Terrence Williams, McNeal is also a stat sheet stuffer. He is being looked upon as a second round pick along with teammates James and Wesley Matthews mostly because of his height and questions about his ability to play the 1 in the pros. Again, if he’s not a pure 1, is he too small to play the 2? He’s an exceptional athlete but if not a true 1, then where will he fit?

What no-one questions however is his defense. He is a swarming defender who causes fits for opponents. If McNeal is not able to boost his draft status in the tournament the Raps could do much worse than to take a second round flyer on this guy.

Other Players of Note: Wesley Matthews (Marquette)

Match-Up: Siena (9) vs. Ohio State (8)

Player to Watch: Everyone still has questions about the last big man to come out of Ohio State and there are definite questions about the latest big man project for the Buckeyes - BJ Mullens. Mullens is being touted as a mid-round lottery pick and depending on what day of the week it is you will either completely agree or completely disagree with that assessment. Mullens is a man amongst boys when he takes the court due to his size but make no mistake he is a definite project. Much like Thabeet, his offensive game leaves much to be desired, he sometimes does too much standing around, and there are questions about whether he has the ability to become a complete big man. If Mullens plays well in the tournament it would be a big boost for OSU but you can’t expect consistent production from the big man.

However the real focus for Raps fans in this one should be on Evan Turner. Turner is probably the name that folks are talking about the least regarding swingman options but come workout time, we expect the 6-7 forward to firmly be on BC’s radar. Turner is one of the best in the league at creating off the dribble, relentlessly attacks the basket, is a solid defender, and has the size and length that NBA types covet. It’s hard to say what Ohio State team will turn up this afternoon against Siena, but we fully expect E.T. to dial it up a notch in any event.

Match-Up: Tennessee (9) vs. Oklahoma State (8)

Player to Watch: Hmmm…would our player to watch be Tyler Smith? Most definitely. If Terrance Williams is Exhibit A in all-around skills, athleticism, and slashing ability, Smith is Exhibit B. He’s an extremely effective one-on-one player but at times doesn’t get to showcase these skills inside the Volunteers offense. In fact Smith is one of those types who seems to read "better NBA player than college player," a scary thought considering how dominant a wing he’s been in SEC play. For the Raptors, Smith would be a huge boost off the bench, not just because of his play-making abilities and aggressiveness, but also considering he’s one of the conference’s best defenders.

The problem is, Tenn is in very tough against a surging Oklahoma State team. Therefore it will be paramount for Smith to dominate and look to get his teammates open looks. Leaving things to Chisolm, Prince, Hopkins and the other Vols just won’t cut it against a superior defensive club in Ok State so we’re hoping Smith attacks early and often. Without his slashing and playmaking, Tennessee may find itself unable to return to the Sweet 16 this year.

Other Players of Note: James Anderson (Oklahoma State)

Match-Up: Arizona (12) vs. Utah (5)

Player to Watch: Another in the "super-athlete" breed, Chase Budinger bears paying special attention to tomorrow. First of all, many thought his Wildcat squad didn’t deserve to be in the tourney in the first place, however now, they have a rather favourable match-up against the Utah Utes. More importantly though for us Raps’ fans, it’s going to be interesting to see which Chase shows up; the one that jumps higher than anyone else his size and attacks the rim with ease? Or the one that settles for 3-pointers and who defers to teammates like Wise and Fogg. While Chase is a good shooter from beyond the arc, he’ll need to get to the rim and create match-up problems for the Utes if he wants his Wildcats to continue their miraculous late-season run.

Other Players of Note: Jordan Hill (Arizona)

Match-Up: USC (10) vs. Boston College (7)

Player to Watch: We’ll finish off this preview by looking at one more shooting guard/small forward; Demar DeRozan. Yes, other players like James Harden and Johnny Flynn will be in action as well tomorrow however those two have had much more exposure so far this season than DeRozan and his Trojans. In fact, had it not been for USC’s Pac-10 tournament run, fans wouldn’t get to see DeRozan at all unless he decided to forego a jump to the NBA and return under Tim Floyd’s tutelage for a sophomore season.

Suddenly though with his late-season heroics, fans and GM’s alike are seeing the DeRozan that drew Kobe Bryant comparisons coming out of high-school. Like Kobe, DeRozan can create off the dribble and get to almost anywhere he wants on the court with ease. He’s no where near the shooter that Kobe was at this time, but his athletic ability and feel for the game is on par with the former Lower Merion star.

It’s no sure thing that he’ll declare this season (perhaps he wants to stay and play with Lil Romeo, a back-up point guard for the Trojans) but if he does, there’s no question he’ll be a lottery pick based on his upside. For us at the HQ, we’re wondering if he can put on a Carmello Anthony or Dwyane Wade type performance, one where he carries a lesser cast of teammates into the final rounds of the tourney. If so, he may suddenly not only find himself back on our top 5 prospect list, but also on many a GM’s draft wish-list.

Other Players of Note: Tyrese Rice (Boston College)

The HQ